Actor James Michael Tyler, known for playing the fan-favorite role of Gunther on all 10 seasons of Friends, has revealed that he’s been battling prostate cancer since September 2018. In a new interview on the Today show that aired on June 21, the 59-year-old actor shared the disheartening details of his diagnosis. “I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones,” Tyler told Today host Craig Melvin. “For my specific prognoses… it’s stage 4. Late-stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me.”
Tyler recalled first being screened for “PSA, [a] prostate-specific antigen” when he was 56 years old. “That came back at an extraordinarily high number,” he said. “So I knew immediately when I went online and I saw the results of my blood test and blood work that there was obviously something quite wrong there.” He continued, “Nearly immediately, my doctor called me and said, ‘Hey, I need you to come in tomorrow because I suspect that you may have quite a serious problem with your prostate.’”
The actor explained that he then began a simple treatment that worked well for “about a year,” where he only had to take one pill twice a day in order to feel next to normal. “I had no symptoms; I didn’t feel any symptoms. And it was very easy to regulate,” he told Melvin. However, around the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the cancer unfortunately spread to his bones, where tumors grew and caused paralysis in the lower half of his body. “I missed going in for a test, which was not a good thing,” he said. “So the cancer decided to mutate at the time of the pandemic, and so it’s progressed.”
For a decade on Friends, Tyler played Gunther, aka Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey’s regular barista at Central Perk, the gang’s go-to coffee shop. At last month’s Friends: The Reunion on HBO Max, the actor appeared virtually to catch up with cast members Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, and Matt LeBlanc — prevented from appearing in-person due to his illness.
“I wanted to be a part of that, and initially I was going to be on the stage, at least, with them, and be able to take part in all the festivities,” he detailed. “It was bittersweet, honestly. I was very happy to be included. It was my decision not to be a part of that physically and make an appearance on Zoom, basically, because I didn’t wanna bring a downer on it, you know? I didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer.’”
Noting that he’s currently undergoing chemotherapy, Tyler added that there are “other [less-difficult] options available” if the diagnosis is caught early enough and urged viewers to ask for a PSA test next time they go to the doctor. “My goal this past year was to see my 59th birthday,” he said. “I did that. My goal now is to help at least save one life.”